CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait --
A Marine rifleman knows that surviving in combat not only takes individual skills, but also buddies who look out for him.
This is the basic idea behind the training exercises being conducted by the Marines of Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit at the Udairi Range Complex during their sustainment training here this week.
Weapons Company trainers don’t have an official name for it, but they describe it as individual movement and enemy suppression training that aims to teach “buddy pairs” or “buddy teams,” groups of two and four Marines how to systematically move against an enemy target to destroy it with accurate and devastating firepower.
“Shoot, move, communicate, basic infantry skills is what we’re teaching,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael E. Lillie, 81 millimeter mortar platoon sergeant, Weapons Company, BLT 1/5, from Portland, Ore., during a hand grenade toss exercise. That’s the mission of a Marine Corps’ rifle squad on the offense, he said.
During the exercise, the teams alternated bounding across the desert using vehicles, natural and man-made obstacles and terrain features as cover. When they got close enough, they threw a grenade onto a 10-foot wide circle in the sand that simulated the enemy target. Platoon sergeants followed the buddy teams through the course yelling instructions and correcting Marines on the spot when they failed to provide proper cover fire for their buddies, failed to seek proper cover from enemy fire or didn’t use their weapons effectively.
“Get behind the vehicle when you’re re-loading [your weapon]. You’re exposed!” yelled a sergeant to a young Marine, as they made their way to neutralize a simulated enemy sniper. Their aim is to get them to work better in small teams and to coordinate their movements and small arms fire to suppress the enemy and get close enough to throw their grenades, he said.
“The dynamics of grenade range throwing while suppressing an enemy is an integral part of training for missions both in Iraq and Afghanistan that most units don’t get to practice back in the States,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason S. Selby, operations chief, Weapons Company, who is from Riverside Calif.
After a safety brief and a dry run using training “dummy” grenades that let out a loud muffled pop and a white puff of smoke, and using rifles without ammunition, the Marines and the range went “hot.” The Marine’s locked and loaded their M16A4 or M4 Service Rifles and went into action.
The exercises were designed to challenge individual Marines and small-unit leaders to make efficient use of the weapons at their disposal and implement maneuver tactics they were previously taught, said Capt. Nathan A. Fleischaker, executive officer, weapons company, BLT 1/5, who is from San Diego.
But Marines understood that it was more than that. The training, some said, drove home the tough reality that if a Marine doesn’t do his job, the Marines next to him may become casualties of war.
“’My buddies are depending on me.’ That’s what’s running through my head,” said Lance Cpl. Shawn K. Bartlett, radio operator, 81 millimeter mortar platoon, from Vero Beach, Fla., so his focus-level was sky-high, he said.
Bartlett said he used visualization to help him through his live-fire run. “I pictured myself running through the trenches” and seeing the enemy in the location where he was to lob the grenade. And of course, taking the enemy out, he said.
Lance Corporal Michael A. Jones, fire direction center plotter, 81 mm platoon, Weapons Platoon, said the live-fire and handling live grenades gave him an adrenaline high that was still with him long after the event was over.
According to Fleischaker, this exercise is intended to be the foundation for future training that will be more complex and involve more weapons and larger groups of Marines.
Jones, who is 19 years old, said he graduated high school early and went to work for the local cable company in Salem, Ore. The job didn’t challenge him, so he joined the Corps, he said.
Half way around the world, he is in the middle of the desert. He is cold, dirty and a little sleep-deprived. When a Marine reminds him that his training has just begun, Jones smiles. “This is definitely what I signed up for.”